Last summer, a Scottish institution crumbled. Rangers Football Club of Glasgow, Scotland, which has won 54 league titles – more than any other club in the world – was bankrupted and liquidated following years of the financial mismanagement.
In short order, Rangers FC became RFC 2012 plc, which became a new company, Sevco Scotland Limited, which was then renamed The Rangers Football Club Ltd. The club’s assets and history were transferred to the new entity. So were most of its players, including U.S. national team defender Carlos Bocanegra and midfielder Maurice Edu.
But the club’s place in the Scottish Premier League, where it had so resoundingly dominated with cross-town archrivals Celtic, did not carry over. As penitence for their wrongdoing, the New Rangers were relegated to the fourth Scottish tier, the Third Division – a Siberia of professional soccer.
“We would have had to play in the Scottish fourth tier, but the club is unbelievable. I would have had no problem staying there at all,” Bocanegra said. “It’s really hard to explain; to see it from the outside. I’ve played at a lot of clubs, but within the first three months, I fell in love with the club. It’s so embedded in people’s roots and their social upbringing.”
“My time at Rangers I really enjoyed,” Edu said. “Things were going really well for me. It was a great platform. I won a few titles and played in the Champions League. Scoring the winner in an Old Firm game was probably the highlight of my career.”
But U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made very clear that his players ought to be playing their club soccer at the highest level (far away from Russian flatlands).
So Bocanegra and Edu had no choice but to leave.
Rangers had hoped Bocanegra would stick around after administration. But after they were relegated, they could no longer afford his salary. So he went on a 10-month loan to Racing Santander of the Spanish Segunda Division, which the defender picked over other options he says didn’t make sense financially. There was a moment the day after the transfer deadline when the deal looked in peril, as several faxes sent before the deadline didn’t actually arrive until minutes afterward. FIFA approved the transfer anyway.
“My national team career was a big, big issue in my moving,” U.S. captain Bocanegra told FoxSoccer.com. “But I still want to fight for my position with the national team. If the national team wasn’t involved, I would have 100 percent stayed with no regrets.”
Edu was also loath to leave one of the world’s best-supported clubs, and sorry to move on from the team that brought him to Europe from Toronto FC four years prior.
“My first year we won the league away at Dundee United and the whole bus ride back, the streets were lined with people,” says Edu. “When we got back to the stadium, there were maybe 40,000 people waiting to celebrate it as well. That was eye-opening, to see that it meant that much to so many people.”
However, he also had no choice but to leave if he hoped to keep representing his country.
“The World Cup is in a couple of years and [Klinsmann] always stresses that we play at a good level,” Edu, 26, said. “Playing in the fourth tier would have ruled me out of playing for the national team and that’s important to me. It wasn’t a possibility, not something I could do at this point in my career and as a result I had to look elsewhere.”
Edu turned down moves to several French clubs, the most aggressive of which was Valenciennes, and was sold to Premier League club Stoke City for almost $500,000. His transfer was held up by paperwork too, as the process of securing a new work permit kept him sidelined for several weeks.
Out of a loyalty exceedingly rare in soccer, Edu nevertheless made sure he transferred his contract to the new Rangers company, rather than become a free agent, so that the club could charge a transfer fee for him – an act of altruism that might have backfired.
“If I could help the club out a little bit I would. I thought it would be a nice gesture to get them some money when I left,” he says. “Everybody was in a different situation and had different transfer fees. But in my situation, I felt like the clubs that were interested in me were able to pay that fee and it would help Rangers out.”
The timing of Rangers’ bankruptcy put the Americans in a tough spot. At 33, Bocanegra hopes to make it to one last World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Had Rangers collapsed two years later with his national team career likely over, things might have been different. “Maybe if I was 27 or 28, I would have said I need to get through the first door out of here,” he says. “But at 33, I was quite happy with my setup, with the city.”
“It was my third club in three years and I felt quite at home with Rangers,” Bocanegra says. “I’d signed a three-year contract and thought this is where I’m going to be. And I wasn’t settling for it. It was an awesome set-up – we had a chance to play in Europe, all these things. And then – Boom! – freaking administration and all this crap hits. Damn. That’s some bad luck.”